Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
I remember one winter, years ago, my church’s youth group decided to put together a bundle of gifts for a family that could not afford them. We went to the store and bought nice toys and clothes off a list, honestly nicer things than I would receive myself for Christmas. Then we went to the little home of the family where a couple kids about our age took the gifts, saw that we were done delivering things to them, and quickly closed the door.
I felt quite disappointed. It had none of the gratitude and love I had always heard of in Christmas stories.
Frankly, I think we do people a disservice by how we over-glamorize service. None of the stories you hear prepare you for the fact that sometimes you might not get told thank you. We don’t ever mention that the person you help might establish a manipulative relationship to try and get more things from you. We never warn that your effort to do good might backfire and cause more harm.
None of which is to say that service is a bad thing. It’s just that if all I hear is how wonderful the experience is going to be for me personally, then my primary motivation is likely going to be for myself.
Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them
Visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction
Notice that neither of these scriptures give any expectation for what will follow your act of service. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Full stop. No promise that they’ll respond in kind. Visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. Full stop. Doesn’t matter if they appreciate it. Doesn’t matter if your effort had a meaningful impact or not. Just do unto others. Just visit the afflicted.
Though it seems ridiculously obvious, I believe a lot of us struggle to instill this one core principle of service: it is about others, not ourselves. Yes we often receive good feeling from doing it…but sometimes we don’t. And when we don’t, that’s fine, that does not mean that we failed. The true purpose of service, to do unto others, has still been fulfilled.